E-commerce: Why it’s Not All about Ideas and Design


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With e-commerce businesses springing up by the dozen every single day, it’s easy to imagine that all you need to start your own e-commerce business is a smart idea and a snappy looking website.

Sigh. If only carrots grew on trees and Golden Retrievers could sing the alphabet.

There is no denying the importance of a great idea or even the much extolled virtues of good web design. However a lot more goes into building the next Amazon, than mere design chops. Come to think of it, Amazon is not a particularly beautiful site, design-wise. Just saying…

Here’s looking at seven areas that you need a good handle on before you can hope to create a fortune for yourself in the e-commerce world.

Inventory Management

Given the fact that an e-store is open round the clock and a midnight stock-out would result in a lost sale, automated inventory management becomes hugely important in an e-commerce set up. Your online storefront, online inventory management system and the physical inventory available at your warehouse need to be in sync 24X7.

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Source: Wikimedia Commons

If you have an offline and an online presence, the inventory situation can be nothing short of chaos. A good online point of sale software, such as Shopify’s electronic POS system, that syncs your online and offline stores with your backend inventory systems would be a good solution to this problem.


In the physical world, an exchange of cash (or credit information) is the end of your sale and you can move on to your next prospect. In the online world, your sale does not end with payment. That’s just the end of your checkout process. You then have to worry about delivering the item undamaged to a customer within a reasonable amount of time.

Source: Lord Enfield, Flickr

The other big worry is the cost of shipping it to the customer and managing the shipping partner. According to a study by Forrester Research, 44% of online shoppers abandoned their shopping carts midway when they find shipping costs to be too high. Get this piece right, and you can delight customers with options like free shipping or same day delivery.

Offers and Deals

When a customer walks into your physical store and is impressed by what they see, it takes them some time and effort to find a store that sells the exact items that they are looking for. Online, a competing site giving the customer exactly what she wants is just one click away.

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Source: Wikipedia (The first coupon in the world, circa 1888)

Given the hundreds of e-commerce sites operating in every imaginable niche, the need to attract and retain customers is much stronger in the online world. A strong offer or a deal on a soon-to-be-out-of-stock item is a good idea if it converts a casual visitor on your site into a customer. The upside to this is that rolling out special deals online is a much simpler task than doing the same in a traditional offline set up.

Partnerships with Offline Brands

An ecommerce store can definitely attract customers who are accustomed to shopping online to its portal. But what about customers who do not shop online? Or customers who do not consume too much of the internet and hence have not been exposed to your online marketing?

Reaching out to non-online customers through partnerships with strong offline brands is a great way to grow your customer base.

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Source: HubSpot Free Stock Images

This is not as complicated as it sounds. Many non-competing offline brands will welcome the value that you bring to the table. An exclusive deal or special terms for customers of the offline brand would make your offline partner to want to promote such offers to their customer base. This mutually beneficial scenario brings you brand awareness among a new non-online audience, while the offline brand gets to pamper its customers with a special deal that their competitors can’t match.


The smartest idea stands for nothing if you have no means to bring the idea to market – in time and in a way that it is seen as valuable by your end users. Most e-commerce startups do a great job of the putting the technical side of the business in place. However, pitching in front of a group of investors to get funding for your online baby is a different ball game altogether.

Unfortunately, it is a necessary evil. If you’re not up to making board room presentations or slick talking some rich guy into investing in your e-commerce venture, you can always fall back on the newest kids on the block – crowdsourcing. Crowdsourcing can be of two kinds – donation based or investment based. The former involves seeking donations from people for your business or product or creative idea in return for a reward or a gift. The latter model seeks resources for business ideas by offering people an equity stake in your business and monetary returns on the original investment. Some good sites for e-commerce businesses would be Indiegogo, Crowdfunder, and Rockethub.


Even though your business idea may be worth a million dollars, you won’t earn a million dollars unless you get people on to your site. Marketing for e-commerce businesses should be a judicious mix of online and offline marketing.

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Source: Integerpoet, Flickr

Your online marketing mix must necessarily include Search Engine Optimization (SEO), Content Marketing, Pay per Click Marketing (PPC), Retargeting and Display advertising, Social Media Marketing and Email marketing. While you make the most of the huge assortment of online marketing tools at your disposal, don’t shy away from easy and important offline marketing methods like radio advertising, event marketing, participating in trade shows and outdoor advertising.

Your marketing efforts in the first year at least would be aimed at acquiring as many new customers as possible. However, from the second year of operations, you would need to focus equally on retaining the new customers that you acquired at such great expense.

Customer Service

E-commerce businesses, more than traditional ones, need to have a strong customer service focus, as the likelihood of a customer needing assistance to complete a purchase or to fix a post purchase problem is much higher in a set up where the customer cannot really touch, feel or see the actual product being purchased.

Many successful e-commerce firms understand this basic problem and have integrated customer service so well into their shopping eco-system that customers have now come to view excellent customer service as a hygiene factor instead of a perk. A wide array of tools are now available at your disposal as an e-commerce entrepreneur; from the time-honored toll free phone number, to email support, live chat support and every single social media platform that you are active on.

Watch Tony Hsieh, the CEO of Zappos talk at a Net Promoter Conference about the importance of customer service to the Zappos brand and how they leveraged a great customer experience to generate huge word of mouth publicity for the brand.

Starting one’s own business has never been as easy as it is today, thanks to technology. However, this very fact has contributed to unspeakable levels of competition in almost every area of new-age business. To rise above and stay ahead of the pack needs not just great vision, but also great execution. Here’s wishing you both in your online venture!

Lori Wagoner
Lori Wagoner is a marketing researcher and strategist who works with small businesses and organizations to help them gain online visibility. Feel free to strike up a conversation on Twitter @loridwagoner.


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